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Plan to cut teacher bonuses hits home
Five Sequim School District employees who recently earned National Board certification are, from left: Jake Reichner, English/art teacher, Sequim High School; Chelsea Reichner, language arts teacher and senior project coordinator, Sequim High School; Matthew Duchow, counselor, Helen Haller Elementary School; Renee Mullikin, second-grade teacher, Greywolf Elementary School; and Charles Kleinberg, multimedia teacher, Sequim High School. Photo by Patsene Dashiell/Sequim School District
by MICHAEL DASHIELL
For many teachers, the process of earning National Board certification is a grueling gauntlet, one that promises a $5,000 annual bonus at completion.
If Gov. Christine Gregoire has her way in the 2011-2013 Washington state biennial budget, however, those bonuses will disappear.
In 2007, the Washington Legislature passed a bill that awards a $5,000 annual salary bonus to each National Board certified teacher.
In an effort to cut spending from the state’s upcoming biennial budget, Gregoire announced Dec. 15 that she would cut all National Board certification bonuses, part of an effort to cut state spending by $4 billion.
“I believe the (governor’s) proposal is absurd, but I like to believe our Legislature has the ability to make an educated decision and uphold the rights certified teachers have to their bonuses,” Sequim High School teacher Jake Reichner said.
Five Sequim School District employees recently earned such distinction, including high school teachers Charles Kleinberg, Chelsea Reichner and Jake Reichner, Helen Haller Elementary School teacher Renee Mullikin and Helen Haller counselor Matt Duchow.
Kleinberg said he worked for his national certification in part to meet his continuing education credits for the state, but also to enhance his teaching acumen and aid student learning.
“I thought if I could earn this certification it would validate my teaching and what I have been doing in the classroom,” Kleinberg said. “In addition, I wanted to use the certification process as another way to improve my teaching and to help my students.”
Now, it seems, teachers’ efforts across the state may lose a key incentive.
“Board certified teachers work hard to get there,” Jake Reichner said. “The bonus is one of the primary incentives for attempting the process in the first place. If the state were to pull the bonuses, I believe we’d not only see a lot of disgruntled, quality teachers, we’d also see far fewer uncertified teachers attempting the process at all, especially considering the cost of entering the program.”
The certification challenge
National Board certification is supported by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an independent, nonprofit organization created to advance the quality of teaching and learning. Board certification requires teachers to submit a four-part portfolio and a six-exercise content and pedagogy assessment.
“Teachers who go through the process film and reflect on their classes, analyze student work and progress, and show how what they are doing in class is a benefit to the growth of their students,” Jake Reichner said.
Those 10 entries document a teacher’s success in the classroom as evidenced by his or her students’ learning. National panels of peers assess the portfolios. Many teachers who pursue National Board certification devote 200-300 hours to the program over the course of a school year.
“The hardest part had to do with the amount of time needed to complete the entries,” Duchow said.
“I spent many hours away from family and other activities,” he said. “I would much rather be climbing a real mountain than tending to a mountain of paperwork.”
To date, the Sequim School District has 16 National Board certified teachers.
Overall, Washington boasts 5,247 National Board certified teachers, ranking fourth in the nation.
“The NBC is a rigorous and demanding course of study,” Sequim school superintendent Bill Bentley said. “Completing the certification is a significant achievement. The efforts of our teachers are a testament to their commitment to lifelong learning.”
‘A huge commitment’
Each candidate chooses a certificate that pertains to the area in which he or she teaches. Mullikin worked on an early childhood generalist certificate. She said that though the five newest Sequim certificated teachers were working on different certificate areas, they gathered monthly to review their work together.
“It’s a huge commitment,” continued Mullikin, “but it was an awesome experience. It was a growing and stretching process that took us to new levels. I would definitely recommend the program to others.”
Teachers across the state are required to pursue continuing education credits every five years. The National Board certification process allows teachers to take a five-year extension (for a total of 10 years) to earn those credits.
“As my husband (Jake) and I have recently started our family,” said Chelsea Reichner, “this extension allows us more time and money devoted to our family rather than taking online classes or going
to conferences throughout the year.”
Mullikin explained that the group began work on the portfolio in September 2009, took a rigorous exam in May 2010 and had to wait until November 2010 to hear results.
Fewer than half (47 percent) of candidates who enter the program pass the National Board.
The cost of seeking national board certification is about $3,000, according to Sequim School District sources.
According to Sequim School District business manager Brian Lewis, the bonus is expected to survive this current fiscal year, but the governor’s proposed 2011-2013 biennial budget would eliminate the bonuses.
“You have to think if they cut the bonus there will be a lot less teachers going after their National Board Certification,” Kleinberg said. “I think that would be unfortunate because I do believe the certification process ends up helping students succeed in the classroom, which is the real reason we are all here — for the students.”
Gregoire’s proposal to eliminate National Board Certification bonuses is one of several areas the governor has proposed cutting in the initial step of the state budget process. Both branches of the Legislature have a turn at amending the budget.
Still, the thought of removing the bonuses from the certification process hasn’t gone over well with some local teachers.
“I felt that in some way I was being compensated for keeping the quality of public education rigorous,” Chelsea Reichner said. “Without the bonus, there is no reward for teachers that authentically care about student learning and accountability to education. The quality of education goes down if there is no incentive to recruit highly qualified teachers. It’s frustrating, to say the least.
“In all honesty, the $5,000 bonus makes a significant difference in our salary as well,” she said. “We (she and her husband) both used to coach ... so the bonus replaces the money lost from that position.”
Said Jake Reichner, “Ultimately, this would be a detriment to education and the development of quality, engaging programs and teachers committed to student learning within those programs.”
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.